A man strolling with his daughter through Hempstead Lake State Park on the last Saturday in June stumbled upon a Rubbermaid container, opened it and found a woman’s mutilated torso stuffed inside.
Wednesday marked 20 years since that gruesome discovery on June 28, 1997, but investigators have yet to identify the woman or her killer. She is known as “Peaches” because of her most distinctive feature: a tattoo on her chest of a heart-shaped bitten peach. After two decades with no updates on the case, six months ago investigators confirmed they used DNA to determine skeletal remains found near Jones Beach State Park in 2011 belonged to the victim—and that a toddler dubbed Baby Doe found dead on the same barrier island that year was her daughter.
“I think out of all of it, that’s bothered me the most, that at that point in time, I believed that someone was missing at least a daughter, and/or a mother,” retired Nassau County Police Det. Lt. William Brosnan, a 42-year veteran of the force and the then-lead Homicide Squad investigator on the case, told the Press in December following the revelation that Peaches was Baby Doe’s mother. “I did several [interviews] and every time, I would say the same thing: ‘Somebody’s missing their child, and a child is missing its mother…’ Now we’re talking, somebody’s missing a child, and a grandchild.”
News of the link, first reported by the Press, came on the week of the sixth anniversary of police finding the first of 10 murder victims along Ocean Parkway—11 for those that believe the missing woman authorities were looking for at the time, Shannan Gilbert, was also slain, although investigators have said they suspect she accidentally drowned in Oak Beach. Besides Gilbert, five of the victims have been identified and of those, all were last known to be sex workers. Authorities have said it they suspect three or more killers used the desolate stretch of road as a dumping ground.
Peaches’ extremities—authorities didn’t specify which limbs—found near Zach’s Bay on April 11, 2011 and her daughter’s skeletal remains found seven miles to the east near Cedar Beach eight days prior places the two at opposite ends of the dumping grounds. The only child—estimated between 16 and 32 months of age—and her mother were the farthest apart of all 10 Ocean Parkway victims.
Peaches, who was believed to be between 20 and 30 years old, is the fourth of the 10 victims to have had parts of her body scattered along Ocean Parkway with other remains found elsewhere on Long Island. The other six were found intact. The women who were found dismembered along the beach were killed between one and three years apart.
The same day police found Peaches extremities near Zach’s Bay, they also uncovered a skull west of Tobay Beach belonging to a woman dubbed Fire Island Jane Doe whose severed legs were discovered on eastern FI a year before Peaches was murdered. Her torso has yet to be found. Neither was Peaches head.
Three years after Peaches’ was initially found, the nude torso of a woman dubbed Jane Doe No. 6 was found in Manorville on Nov. 19, 2000. Three years after that, the nude torso of 20-year-old Jessica Taylor was found a quarter mile away near a sump along the same stretch of Halsey-Manor Road on July 26, 2003. Police found the skulls and extremities of those two women in the spring of ’11 near Cedar Beach, just west of where Peaches’ daughter was uncovered.
The Manorville victims and Peaches were believed to have been killed days prior to their bodies being discovered by passersby. Taylor is the only one of the dismembered Ocean Parkway victims to be identified. Peaches and her daughter, who were wearing similar gold jewelry, are the only two of the 10 who authorities identified as black.
A lot has changed in the 20 years since Peaches’ initial discovery. Bill Clinton was beginning his second term as president. A new TV show called Pokémon debuted in Japan. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the series, was first published. WiFi was invented.
Since then, authorities have also benefited from a host of technological advances that can help crack cold cases like Peaches’. But experts have said a surviving victim that got away is the best bet of finding the killer.
One of the best publicly known leads came after Brosnan put an ad requesting tips with a picture of Peaches’ tattoo in a tattoo magazine and got a call from the artist who said it was his work. Steven Cullen of Bristol, Conn., recalled giving Peaches the tattoo a year prior to her being killed.
“She came from New York and she was there with one of her girlfriends,” Cullen told Josh Zeman and Rachel Mills, filmmakers who produced The Killing Season, a docu-series that probed the Gilgo Beach murders. Cullen told the filmmakers that Peaches mother called in ’12 and said her son wanted to get an “in memory of” tattoo for his mother, but they never showed up.
Investigators revealed the link between Peaches and Baby Doe in a recently updated case file listed in NamUs, a federal database used to help identify Jane and John Does nationwide, following inquiries from Zeman and Mills. They were acting on a tip from a Massapequa native who uses the handle “Fieldnotes” in the online crime buff forum WebSleuths. Fieldnotes previously told the Press he first noticed Jane Doe No. 3 wasn’t listed in NaMus in 2013 after meeting the victims’ families and pushed for her inclusion before authorities later confirmed Jane Doe No. 3 was actually Peaches.
Peaches’ case file in NamUs notes that investigators ruled out one woman: Laura Stubbs of Ohio. Nassau and Suffolk authorities have declined to comment on the cases, citing the ongoing investigation. Brosnan, the retired Homicide detective, described Peaches’ initial dump site as secluded and within dense brush–about 200 yards north of Peninsula Boulevard, west of Lake Drive.
“The road that she was found off, that’s not a heavily traveled road,” he said. “You would have to live in the area to know it’s there, or make a mistake and come off the parkway.
“You’re looking at a broader scope now, because now it’s all over the place, it’s not, we’re not just talking about the Hempstead area or Nassau County,” he added. “Now you’re all over. You don’t know where this is coming from now.”
Anyone with information about Peaches can call anonymously to Nassau County police Crime Stoppers at 1-800-244-TIPS. Anyone with information about Baby Doe can call anonymously to Suffolk County police Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.
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